Blacksmith Work Week is an annual tradition at the Folk School where skilled blacksmiths come for a week and volunteer their time to do projects around campus and make improvements in the Clay Spencer Blacksmith Shop. I talked to Paul Garrett, the Folk School’s Resident Blacksmith, about this year’s Blacksmith Work Week (March 29-April 4, 2015).
CP: How was Blacksmith Work Week this year?
PG: It was really good. We had a great group of almost 20 people. Everyone had great projects to work on and all went home happy.
CP: One of the new installations is the railing on the back of the Festival Barn Stage. Can you tell us about that design and process?
PG: We wanted to make a simple railing to free up the view to the woods behind the stage. A lot of people have good memories of sitting in the barn and looking out at the woods behind the music and the temporary wooden railing blocked up the view. We replaced it with thin metal posts and horizontal railing so it’s more pleasant to look through. The center panel is going to be a leafless tree. The posts arch outward from the center where the tree will be, so it looks like the trunk is pushing them out.
CP: Who designed the new railing?
PG: I created the initial design and we fine-tuned the design by committee. I welcome input and try to give people creative leeway in the process. For example, the arching of the posts out happened by accident. We were punching the holes and that bends the bar. They were all bent them same way, so we decided to just leave them and incorporate it into the design.
CP: What other projects did you tackle?
PG: We did a lot of repair and maintenance projects around the shop. This involves forging pieces on the anvil, but it also includes tool and equipment maintenance, electrical work, woodworking, fabrication, and installation. Folks don’t realize that some of the people who come to work are not only blacksmiths, but other specialized technicians helping to keep the Shop running smoothly.
Dave Smucker and Julie Clark worked on the big job of making new air gates for the forges. John Campbell, Able Allen, and Susan Hutchinson worked on a bench for the Rivercane walk.
Clay Spencer hand-engraved a pair of plaques thanking all of the timber framers that cut and erected the Spencer Shop’s frame? It took the whole week for him to do it and it will be finished and framed soon for display in the shop.
He transferred the text to the sheet metal plaques, and then used a small air assisted engraver to hand engrave the hundreds of letters in the 50 odd names, and the project dates and stuff.
The old tool room in the dairy barn part of the shop (which is now the grinding and drill press room) hadn’t been painted since 1992. We gutted it out, scrubbed, scrapped, brushed and painted it with recycled paint from the Maintenance Department. It looks better than ever.
CP: I noticed a new lamp in the Keith House Coffee Room?
PG: Ron Nichols started that last year at Work Week and he did the lamp shade here – it’s all hand chiseled, repoussé, and chasing work – very time consuming. He started the base and finished it at home. It’s pretty awesome. The mica shade is mined locally in North Carolina.
CP: Was there a sufficient amount of meat in the Dining Hall?
PG: There’s always a little a bit of food left and enough for everyone. We always lobby for more meat. I’m not sure if they listened to us, but everyone was happy.
CP: What’s your favorite thing about Work Week?
PG: All the blacksmiths are so gung-ho to get things done. No one complains–they just get down and dirty and get things done. We get well over 1000 hours of highly-skilled volunteer labor that week. It’s incredible to see what can get done when everyone pitches in.
I only charge maybe 600-800 hours of work for the whole year and I can’t possibly do everything that really needs to be done. For example, there’s no way I could have gutted, cleaned up, and painted that tool room all by myself.
Also, all the shop machinery gets service and repaired. It’s really cool to see everyone coming together to keep our equipment shipshape–it’s a huge endeavor to do that by myself. It’s great to have all my friends here, everyone pitching in with a can-do attitude. It’s so helpful and keeps the Folk School Blacksmithing Program stay on top among the teaching facilities in the country.
A big thanks to all the Blacksmiths who participated in Blacksmith Work Week 2015. Special thanks to Julie Clark for documenting the event with wonderful photos. See more of Julie’s photos from Blacksmith Work Week 2015 on our Flickr Album.
Cory Marie Podielski is a freelance graphic designer, photographer, and writer for the John C. Campbell Folk School. She has been writing for the Folk School Blog since 2012 and enjoys interviewing artists, musicians, and craftspeople. In her spare time, she enjoys playing the banjo, dancing, printmaking, playing in clay, and assisting in Folk School bread baking classes. podielski.com